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Oil Patch here to stay for a while

MEDORA -- Another report is out dissecting the possible long-term projections and implications of the Bakken energy play to western North Dakota and the findings are more of the same.

The booming North Dakota Oil Patch is here to stay -- probably for a few more decades.

Detailing a report entitled "Williston Basin 2012: Projections of Future Employment and Population," North Dakota State University Department of Agribusiness & Applied Economics researcher Dean Bangsund, co-author of the report, presented to a Vision West ND Consortium Meeting at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame on Thursday.

Though the size and shape of the energy play will likely change with time, Bangsund told members of Vision West that the western part of the state will be feeling the effects of the energy play for years to come.

"If the housing demand numbers are realistic with the constrained employment projections that we've done," Bangsund said, "then we have a huge challenge to meet these needs. That's why we're all here."

Just from the year 2010 through 2020, the Dickinson region -- comprised of Stark and several surrounding counties -- will see a 48 percent increase in total housing units, according to the report. Projected from 2010 through 2013, the region would need an additional 15,000-plus housing units, or an 80 percent jump.

Though Bangsund stressed the fluidity of employees moving in and out of western North Dakota causes difficulty in researching employment, population and housing trends, he noted that a steady mix of permanent oil industry-related, temporary and secondary (including service industries) is likely to project throughout the area for decades to come.

"Population forecasts represent population potential," Bangsund said. "If you don't put the housing in, you're not going to get all of that population. I can't stress that enough. You'll get some of that workforce that we project, but you won't have some of the dependents and spouses. The oil industry has already shown that they will have the workforce in place -- they'll put the people on the ground."

In the Dickinson region studied, the report predicts a total population of more than 62,000 permanent residents by 2030, which would be a 61 percent leap from 2010 population numbers. By 2030, the NDSU report estimates that the Williston Region -- including high-activity counties like Williams and McKenzie -- will have witnessed a whopping 193 percent increase to more than 90,000 permanent residents.

"The consensus in 2010 was that we were going to have 25,000 to 28,000 wells," Bangsund said. "In 2011, they said 30,000 or 35,000 wells. Now we're hearing it could be as high as 40,000 or 50,000 wells. The pattern here is the well count numbers are going up, not down."

Even when much of the infrastructure planned for the Williston Basin is placed, employees in the oil and gas industry will be needed to service wells and other oil and gas extracting and transporting units. Bangsund also stressed the possibility of changing projections based on factors such as the operation of higher density wells, new technologies and the untapped Tyler Formation in southwest North Dakota.

"If all the planning we're doing right now is based on 40,000 wells and that number goes back up again, that would have huge implications," Bangsund said. "These projections need to be figurative. We need to have updates as new information comes forward. In the oil field service industry, we've heard it takes more people servicing those wells than what we're using. That could change a lot."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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